CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Earlier this year, during a team meeting, Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente asked his players a simple question:
How many of you guys know anything about the Virginia Tech-West Virginia rivalry?
According to receiver Cam Phillips, not a single player raised his hand.
This is unacceptable. A travesty!
It happened, gang. The Tech-WVU rivalry vanished. The Black Diamond Trophy became a dusty old dodo bird only your grandfather remembers. The speed traps along I-77 have gone dormant.
OK, that last one probably isn’t true. But the people getting pulled over aren’t driving from Blacksburg to Morgantown, or vice versa, in a rush to see one of the most intense games on the schedule.
“When was the last time they played?” Phillips said. “2003? 2005? I was 7 or 8 years old; that was before I even got really into college football.”
Sheesh. It’s a good thing everything — including this annual ACC Football Kickoff — starts a little early this year.
These young men need an education.
On Sept. 3, the Hokies will open their season against the Mountaineers at FedEx Field. It’ll be the first time those two combatants have met since 2005, when the Hokies handed the Mountaineers their lone blemish in an 11-1 season.
It’s going to be nasty.
It’s going to be nostalgic.
It’s going to be great.
The Hokies just don’t realize it yet, but they will. Fuente will make sure of that.
“They have nobody [on their team] that’s played us,” Fuente said of the Mountaineers. “We have nobody that’s played them. The way I see it, it’s my job to educate our kids about what this means. …
“I think I would be remiss if I just assumed that they understand the rivalry and what it’s going to be.”
Fortunately, Fuente has Bud Foster and Charley Wiles on his staff. Strength coaches Jarrett Ferguson and Ryan Shuman have first-hand experience in that rivalry, too.
Then, of course, there are the longtime fans who remember the intensity of those games, which were contested 33 straight years from 1973-2005.
“The closer we get to it, I’m starting to feel that,” Hokies linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka said Friday. “Nobody [in the fan base] likes West Virginia. This rivalry is really a big-time rivalry. I think us realizing that will help us rise to the challenge.
“It’ll be cool. I’ve heard a lot of stories about West Virginia and their fans. I think it would have been cool to play there, too, just to experience that.”
Not everyone agrees, and that’s how we lost the series in the first place.
You know a rivalry is good when one side decides it’s getting so heated that a break is warranted. Heeding the wishes of some donors who no longer enjoyed the vitriolic pairing, the late Tech athletic director Jim Weaver put the series on hiatus after that ’05 game.
A respite might have been in order, but 12 years is a long time. Too long. Long enough for a whole generation of Hokies to have no idea about the way things were.
“I see how important it is to the fans, the fans talking trash, talking on social media,” Phillips said. “With it being a neighboring state, you see some West Virginia tags in Blacksburg. It’s actually really, really close to West Virginia.”
Oh, yes, Cam, it is. Too close, right? Those guys might as well be in your lap. Get mean!
“Actually,” Phillips said, “I was offered by West Virginia.”
Here we go. Borders! Bad blood! Brouhahas!
“I remember this: I was supposed to go on a visit to see those guys, and the coach said something came up,” Phillips said. “I never went on the visit. I just took it as they didn’t want me.”
“It’s something I remember,” he continued. “That’s not to say they were the only school that did that, where I didn’t feel as wanted as I felt I should have been.”
Yeah, maybe, but this is Tech-WVU we’re talking about. Magnify it. Lose perspective. Go nuts!
“It’s just a little added motivation,” he said.
Only a little? Sigh. Forgive him. He’s still not entirely sure what he’s getting into. He’s learning.
They’ve got seven weeks to figure it out. That might feel like a long time to wait, but it sure beats 12 years.